I recently learned that my friend, colleague and former congregant, Luther Pierce died last month in Gainesville. FL, just weeks shy of his 98th birthday.
When I first met Luther, he was already retired from a long ministry in CT, and was living in Cummington, MA. He was serving two little churches part-time in the hill towns of Western, MA, Peru and Worthington.
We first met at the home of Max and Jean Stackhouse, who hosted monthly dinners for area clergy at their home in the Berkshires. Luther was also the New England development representative for Seminario Evangelico de Puerto Rico. He convinced our congregation to include the school in the mission portion of a capital fund campaign.
Later, when Luther really retired, he and his wife Fran started attending the church I served in Pittsfield, the First Church of Christ, Congregational. and later joined and became active members of the church. Luther frequently guest preached for me, and was a supporter of me and my ministry. Now that I am retired, Luther remains a model and guide for how I try to support my own pastor.
In 1995, when I had a sabbatical at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, Luther was the interim minister. Everybody loved Luther.
Luther had a passion for world missions and later became the chair of our mission committee at First Church. He was active in mission and stewardship work in both the CT and MA Conferences of the UCC. In CT, he chaired the Department of Mission and Stewardship for several years. Before he retired he had visited over forty countries, often visiting the missionaries around the world.
Before he became a pastor, Luther was a chicken farmer, a pilot, a Christian educator, and the executive of the Greater Miami Council of Churches.
He had gone to Bucknell University, a Baptist college, and one of his classmates was United Church of Christ theologian, Gabriel Fackre, who was also a Baptist at the time.
Luther was locally ordained a Baptist and later, with help from his old friend, Gabe, was received into the United Church of Christ. He served UCC churches in FL and CT.
Luther was one of those omni-competent guys that could do most anything. He built his retirement home in Cummington with his own hands. The front of the house was all done in local stone. He gardened, raised chickens, and had a woodworking shop where he made things to sell at church fundraisers. He started a small press to publish his writings, Birch Hill Press, and he published one of my books.
Luther and Fran were wonderful hosts and great cooks. Their table was spread with food that they had grown or made themselves. Fran was a delightful southern belle from Alabama who Luther had met when he was on his way home from military service. It was a love match; they were married for 66 years.
Luther was one of the most intellectually curious and best read people I have known. He went into the ministry after being in business and never attended seminary, something he regretted. His ordination was a local ordination in the Baptist church he was serving at the time, and when he came to the United Church of Christ he was given a rigorous course of study before he was accepted. It is ironic that he was better versed in the theological disciplines than most clergy I have known. He and I read many books together and talked about them, including a couple of tomes by New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, who I had studied with during my Oxford sabbatical.
In August of 2000 I had a catastrophic bicycle accident while riding the Greylock Century Ride. It was on the Saturday that our church held its annual Blueberry Festival, and I had opted out for the ride. I called Luther from the Berkshire Medical Center to tell him I couldn’t come to church the next day, and to ask him to fill in for me. He quickly assured me he would see to it, and then he gently said, “You should have come to the Blueberry Festival!”
I always thought he had the coolest name for a Protestant pastor: Luther Calvin Pierce, and I told him so. He looked sheepish and said, “My folks chose my middle name out of admiration for Calvin Coolidge.”
Luther was a faithful and wise pastor who walked the walk as well as talked the talk. He was a great human being, and a good friend. I thank God for him.
His service is this afternoon down in Gainesville. I can’t be there so I wrote this.